Honorable Mention | Taa Daa | Christy Ruby

Christy Ruby

  • Tlingit, Eagle, Kéet Gooshí Hít (Killer Whale Dorsal Fin House)
  • Ketchikan, Alaska
  • Category: Sewing: Skin & Fur
  • Black and white sea otter furs

This capelet is made from furs harvested only in Alaska. After the North American Fur Auction went bankrupt, it’s now extremely important to support our pioneer trappers and the skills needed to preserve our local fur art. 

 “Taa Daa” is a lighthearted, funny play on the serious shield Taa Naa (tináa). We need a shield of humor to defend against today’s turmoil. But don’t let the silly name fool you into thinking a joker glued this fur thing together. Sixty-five hours went into constructing this unique capelet, starting with the bone chilling hunt. Rain with sleet and 30-mph winds during the winter is the best time to harvest a sea otter. The hides are prime and the summer sunburn on the fur has been molted out. The day isn’t over yet after a split-second shot is taken. The 100-pound animal must be taken out of the skiff and skillfully skinned. Salt is used to store the rolled up “sleeping bag” sea otter up to six months. Next is an overnight soaking in a trash can bath of cool water.

After receiving a grant in 2011 to teach pressure fleshing, the technique quickly spread and was the simplest way to make backbreaking work easy. Babysitting is involved when drying the hides to make sure skin-to-skin isn’t touching while hanging over a two-by-four board. And last is the costly shipping to a special tannery. After a year, and with several pleas, a special tannery agreed to acquire the overzealous federal permit to tan sea otters. The adventure began with several costly trial runs of my hides being used as guinea pigs. But after what seemed years, the amazing one-of-a-kind sea otter hides in black-and-white were born.

Taa Daa’s middle section is made of seal that I harvested in Ketchikan and is tanned by one of the last/best tanner who is 90 this year. Polar bear from Shishmareff is tufted in the dentalium. A Native elder in Kotzebue harvested the silver fox. Wayne Grant carved the walrus ivory beads. Benjamin Schliefman made a solid silver Taa Naa from a sketch I designed. Homemade shoulder pads and hand sewn blue satin lining complete the look.

Juror comment: Fur colors were expertly selected and combined. The tináa pin is a great accessory. Challenging to work in shells to the garment … interesting addition of polar bear hair. It is definitely made to be worn by “royalty.”